The Haight Ashbury Quartet
Be In - Tribal Home Movie #2 – Connie Joy – Sevin Goes To School
I’m compelled to write this because I’m uncertain anyone else sees what I believe I put into these films and the critical literature seems so other directed or inarticulate to discuss it.
Be In was made from pretty much found or borrowed footage and audio recordings from the original Human Be In, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, January 14, 1967. It was intended to deliver an authentic experience of being, rather than document or re-tell an event. Happily, having no stake in the given images or sounds I could freely mold what I had into what it wanted to become. Very Zen. Or, Be Bop. Whichever.
Tribal Home Movie #2 was intended to take one into the Haight Ashbury community to experience the characters, environs and event going down between us. Again, not a documentary or history but a view of ourselves for ourselves, a fragmentary, moving mirror, a filmic artifact of, by and for the culture. It takes place later in the Spring of 1967, just prior to The Summer of Love. Outsiders will share a different experience of the film, but still my wish was to take you there, as well.
Connie Joy was a love poem, pure, simple, spontaneous. Made on the first morning after falling in love - and incidently the day before Valentine’s Day, 1971 – I woke up, looked over at this sleeping beauty and grabbed the camera. I composed images & sequences in the camera, triply exposing short segments by rewinding, partially exposing different layers and matting to collage images, working throughout our day of sweet love, pleasure & discovery ... what an ecstatic film artist can do when he’s not on drugs. What you see is exactly the way it came out of the camera, complete, one 3 minute, 100 foot reel. Remarkably, I think it comes through beautifully.
Sevin Goes To School - Sevin was Connie's 5-year old son. We awoke in a tipi on a sheep ranch in northern Sonoma County the first day the "school bus" came for Sevin. The film was triply exposed & composed entirely in the camera on one 100' reel. Here, each layer was exposured all the way to the end of the reel, then re-wound to the beginning for the next layer, so, the beginning, the middle and the end of the story are folded on top of each other and run simultaneously - chronolgical cubism. Controlling frame exposure and chance juxtaposition, I took each layer as a different component of a song: one layer of bass, the second of melody & the third of embelishment.
I had already made the first two films when I met Charles Olson, but I realized I was moved by the same muse as his foundation of Projective Verse. What I believed I was making on film was, indeed, projective poetry.
Charles writes, in explaining the three elements of Projective Verse:
(1) The Kinetics: THE POEM ITSELF IS ENERGY TRANSFERED FROM WHERE THE POET GOT IT, ALL THE WAY OVER TO THE READER.
(2) The Principle: FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT.
(3) The Process: ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION.
It struck me immediately these were also true of film. That whatever else may be a film, it is necessary that the poet’s perceptual energy be transfered undiminished to the viewer; that form must always be no more than an extension of content; and that one perception must immediately lead to a further perception. This is how & why the above films were made.
Film is about visual/aural perception and the filmmaker is concerned with transfering the nature & the experience of that perception to the viewer through the medium of film. The viewer must experience the filmmaker’s perception, and thereby, the events that moved the artist in the first place. Films like this die when they become referential, depictions, mere tellings of events & detail, or lost in effects – when the filmmaker wants to tell you ABOUT his experiences. To stay alive and awaken life in the viewer, the film must become the event itself. If the kinetics ain’t there, if the motivation, the energy is lost or confused, then it’s one dead puppy.
Secondly, film (or any poem) dies, fails, flops when form fails to extend, derive from, exclusively, drive & deliver content. When Form diverges from Content, the content becomes confused & diluted, the Form becomes a distraction and a mis-direction of energy. And worst of all, the deviant energy is a dissipation, a loss, a waste of all that has gone before! You destroy your very work of art by failing to maintain this efficiency.
Third, the process is the Process, the universe, the present, going & coming – never an end, conclusion or dogma. The reality is navigation through indeterminant continua, from one step to another, one perception to another, wherever you are, however arbitrary, impermanent, changing your Self & the view of reality you’re crossing. We do not inhabit states, but move from perception to response, experience to action. There is no end or goal, no point of arrival or conclusion (until you die) but a journey without a map, always a new corner, vista, confrontation ahead. Films & poems take us there, down those paths, exploring perception, action and consequence. And deliver you, finally, back home to assimilate or use it in the rest or turmoil of your life.
Actually, it’s no more complicated than music. Whether it tells a story, carries you on a journey or makes you dance, music is always an event IN the present. And form is identical to content (song excepted.) A Film, to me, IS visual music, aural music, verbal music, image music, story & character music, background music, set music. One tone or chord leading to another and the next, building tension, image, mood, trajectory as it goes; broadening, intensifying, agitating, quieting, leading, compelling, resolving; bringing insight, inspiration, enlightenment, emotion and reflection. Even when it’s quiet and slow.
All this can be done with painting on film, human characters or abstract images, color or motion. Or combinations of all three! The universe of human experience is vast, confusing, intriguing, obscure, sad & pleasurable – and we all want to have these notes, vignettes, symphonies awakened in us, brought to awareness, revelation and resolution.
I always gauge a film by how I feel about it the day after. My immediate conscious reactions are tenative, if not suspect, in what it truely means to me. In the trickle down, deeper effects lie the mysteries I want to see. Does it pop back into your mind when yr walking down the street or in situation with others? Does it awaken your dreams or bring on nightmares? If a film or poem doesn’t change you, then it didn’t work. If you do not walk out of the theater a different person than the one that walked in, then it, and you, failed. Any thing else is simply entertainment.
With Be In the music is free improvisation – a cascade of colors, sounds, events, persons, drugs, gestures & guardian angels. The beat never stopped although it changed depending which direction you were facing. The costumes of imagination, the friends, the rhetoric, the food, the music, the chants just rolled in over the crowd all day long – it ended when you left, hopefully with friends, old or new. The film was assembled from segments composed by optical reprinting and rephotography. The audio was from unsynched wild recordings and juxtaposed to work off of the visual elements. It was assembled quickly, letting intuition and providence guide the knife and glue. It comes at you strong, takes you with it & won’t let go until it drops you at the end....
Tribal Home Movie was a much more intentional production than Be In, with lengthy preconception, shooting, viewing, reprinting and editing that took several months. It is so tightly worked visually that I decided to keep it silent. Brakhage often spoke how sound dominates attention and reaction, and can easily destroy a film if not done correctly. And this already was enough to experience just as silent film. Sound could not have added to, but only competed with, the tight visual composition.
I chose a sort of haiku style, composing successive scenes or verses separated by black leader that gave time to absorb and reflect on what just occured. The next scene would build in a different direction, developing a new verse of the evolving visual poem. The footage was derived from real life, cinema verite, shot in the ordinary daily affairs of various people, locations, organizations & activities of the Haight. The content progressed in time from morning thru the day to evening, juxtaposing & inter cutting different locations, actions & persons within each verse.
I especially wanted that pause in darkness & silence between verses, with only one’s own thoughts, feelings & afterimages, to increase the viewer’s intimate participation in the experience.
The editing and timing were contrived to not only register images and visual thoughts, but also to involve the physical sensations of eye movement, muscle tensions & breath. By keeping it silent, subtle crossover sensations from the full visual experience could be felt. Every movement, freeze, flicker, color change or repetition was intentional, as if it were a flute solo in the dark. It was meant to engage the eyes, the mind, the emotions, the viscera & the breath of the viewer in the life of the community.
((So, how does this come about? That’s the funny part about filmmaking: it is so long between the original conception and the final presentation that only magic can make it happen. Magic and the sharpest of focused intention. Somehow, the inspiration must be so ingested, internalized, assimilated into the root core of the artistic animal that every judgement will be correctly made to realize your movie as you originally dreamed it. Hollywood has it easy, they have scripts detailing every aspect of a production and hundreds of people delegated to carry out all the little parts. We have only one person to do everything. And you never know even after you’ve completed it that it really works for others. You are so full of all the details you put into your creation that you’ll never know what anyone else sees in it: is it genius or a mess? Alas!))
Having shot the footages, I view them repeatedly in the optical viewer. Deciding what interested me about each scene, I cut and hang them in the clip bin according to those associations. I then choose the first image of a sequence – say, getting up in the morning – and imagine a composed sequence of other shots and ideas that show some development, progress, contrast or alternative. The result is an armfull of clips that I want to weave into each verse.
I time durations of action within the scenes by counting frames, 24 to each second, 6 to a quarter second. I also time my breath: how long for a deep, relaxed breath, how long for quick, starled breathing; whether the body has time to react to action or is pressed into the back of the chair by rapid cuts; how brief an image can one comprehend; how the eyes follow movement about the screen. I gauge how many frames for each of those responses.
Eventually I take that collection of clips, metrics and ideas to the optical printer where each frame is rephotographed and built into the composed sequence - frame by frame, using the timing, the montage, the overlays, the technical devices (freezes, speed, motion or color changes) - to create the verses I saw in my mind’s eye. Compositionally, it is poetic free verse. Judgements are made right there at the printer of what should work, what you want it to say. It’s very slow progress, similar to working at a keyboard, composing note by note. Each completed sequence is intended to be a participatory essay, ballet or mural of everyday life in the hood.
I can’t easily convey how tedious and time consuming this operation can be. While working around mechanical malfunctions, worldly distractions, sleep deprivation & lonely sunrises – to count frames, click a release trigger for each exposure, crank the projector ahead to another frame, change shot clips, back up the camera for multiple exposures, over and over again, 24 times per second - and have it all successfully come back from the lab resembling anything like a pleasurable experience, is miraculous. Possibly comparable to nothing except sewing costumes for a flea circus.
To complete the actual film, I trimmed a few segments of some printer sequences or joined others, making final judgments about content, flow & timing each verse to bring the whole composition together. Only cuts were used to join these sequences, no further superimpositions or disolves were added at the lab.
When I’m finished with a film, I can’t tell what it says or does, accomplishes my mission or is complete gibberish. My family, friends, fellow filmmakers, innocent bystanders, judges & critics are asked over and over again: how is it? what do you see? does it work for you? do you see what I was getting at? Soon they begin avoiding me and it’s months before I forget all about the creation process and begin to finally see it for itself. Eventually, some begin to mention things about the film that you recall actually putting into it, or intending to, anyway. And suddenly the magic of it returns, somehow that got from conception through all that interference into the movie, Yea! The miracle.